Friday, May 22, 2009

Speech Technology and HealthCare

Recently, I was invited to participate to a meeting of AVIOS (Applied Voice Input Output Society) local chapter in Menlo Park, California to discuss the use of speech technology in HealthCare and Medicine.

Speech technology is not widely used in healthcare at the moment. The healthcare industry is still focusing on efficiency and cost saving by solving systems integration, re-wamping legacy systems and making paper based processes digital.

Dictation and transcription for EMRs

The most successful type of applications is probably dictation/transcription for electronic medical records (EMR).

Speech recognition, enhancing productivity and reducing medical costs as a result. In this domain, Nuance is one of the market leader.

The products and services of Nuance Healthcare are used at more than 5,000 hospitals and by more than 400,000 providers.

Nuance’s on-premise Dictaphone Enterprise Speech System (ESS) components support recording the dictation audio, managing the audio and the resulting transcription process, transcription document distribution, and online reporting.

Dragon medical is another product from Nuance with which physicians dictate in real-time into their EMR in their own words letting them instantly review, sign, and make their notes available for other clinicians. This include Medical Vocabularies, covering nearly 80 specialties and subspecialties and regional accent support.

Potential use for Care and Disease Management

Besides dictation/transcription there are some additional potential uses of speech technology in other domains related to heathcare. Care and Disease Managament is one of them.

Organizations/companies like Lifemasters have call centers where nurses help to help patients with chronic disease achieve optimal health by closing the gaps between recommended and actual care (evidence-based medicine) and encouraging patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle and reducing the overall cost of healthcare. Speech technology could be used to complement and optimize this type of services: virtual operators, voice activation services, automatic text-to-speech combined with voice-over-IP reminder and notifications (e.g. to take drugs, schedule an exam, do certain types of exercices etc ...). Companies like requall and Jott already provide this type of notification infrastructure that can be delivered on mobile phones for example.

Other Areas

Additional research areas in speech technology and healthcare include:
  • disease assessment (e.g. parkinson over the phone, although this disease is very complex and voice is probably not the most important factor)

Overall, there is a big potential for use of Speech Technology in the healthcare industry.

The recent improvements in Text-to-Speech make it very attractive to healthcare, especially to non life critical applications.

Speech recognition accuracy is sometimes still a problem, but it is well suitable for sub-languages with specific vocabulary. It might be more difficult to be used directly by patients/health consumers, especially senior citizens where the language can be altered by their conditions.